Video Games

Platinum Trophy no. 16 – Horizon Zero Dawn

After 104 hours of play, I have finally finished Horizon Zero Dawn and earned the Platinum Trophy. A full review will be forthcoming, but needless to say, I think it’s a magnificent game.

As Platinum Trophies go, this was one of the easiest. Even though I have the strategy guide (and the internet), I played the game completely blind on the highest difficulty. I didn’t look up anything about the story, strategies, or trophies. After the credits rolled, the only trophy I had left to get was the one for knocking down all of the Grazer dummies. Piece. Of. Cake.

If I were to give a very general assessment of the game, I’d say the technical implementation is near flawless. HZD is smooth, beautiful, and well thought out in every way, from the menus, map, and HUD to graphics and gameplay. The main story and main characters are very good. The place where it has the most room for improvement is in its extended cast of characters, their interactions with one another, and side quests. At no point did I feel much of anything towards any of the other inhabitants of Aloy’s world.

I take that back. I fucking hated Ahsis with a passion.

Video Games

Horizon Zero Dawn Strategy Guide review

HZD_FrontCover

I don’t generally buy strategy guides for video games, but I was so smitten with Horizon Zero Dawn that I preordered the guide at the same time I preordered the game. Part of the reason I felt comfortable doing so, is that it’s published by Future Press. I’m familiar with their work via the Dark Souls strategy guide, which I got on clearance, and which blew me away with its quality. (By comparison, Prima Games guides have always left me feeling meh.)

The Physical Thing

HZD_Side

The book itself is a 656 page, hardcover, tome for the ages. The front features a gorgeous image, my favorite part of which is the gull perched atop the Thunderjaw’s back. It’s predominantly white and light blue which contrasts beautifully with the black binding. The back cover is solid white with a symbol above the words ZERO DAWN; if the symbol has any special meaning, I don’t know what it is. The binding itself seems quite sturdy and includes a placeholder ribbon.

Upon opening the book, we’re greeted with a clean black flyleaf. Following that are a foreword, chapter overview and table of contents, all black themed. Again, this is done to contrast the core of the book, which is predominantly white. Aesthetically, it works very well. I was particularly impressed with the forward, which really gives you a sense of how passionate Future Press is about their books.

Playing the game for months to search out its every secret was a joy – the visuals, the story, the combat and the world all come together perfectly. It’s obviously a game its creators loved spending those years making, and we hope it’s just as obvious that this is a book we loved spending months putting together.
-Future Press

HZD_Contents

Organization

The book is broken into seven chapters: Training Manual, Hunting Guide, Hunting Targets, Quest Guide, Region Guide, Hunting Gear and The Notebook. In the chapter overview there is a much appreciated blurb regarding spoilers and how to use the book so as to avoid them. Another nice touch is that the included foldout map has a complete icon legend that’s visible while the map is folded.

HZD_IconLegend

Chapter 1 Training Manual covers all the basics of the game at a high level. It breaks down the HUD; saving and loading; leveling and advancement; and health and the medicine pouch. In regards to that last one, there’s a nice table that shows all the different medicinal herbs, where they tend to be found and how much they fill the medicine pouch.

Some other things covered in chapter 1 include Photo Mode; using the Focus; a thorough breakdown of movement; navigation; quests; items, looting and crafting; and the basics of combat and stealth. Seeing as I was already deep into the game before getting the strategy guide, there wasn’t a ton for me learn from chapter 1. That said, I did benefit from the fall damage explanation as well as an explanation of invincibility frames during dodge rolls.

Chapter 2 Hunting Guide is quite extensive, delving into the details of combat. It is itself subdivided into three sections. The first section explains the various damage types, and in particular, does a very nice job explaining status effects, severity and threshold. I had a vague understanding of how status effects work, but now I know what the numbers mean and what they need to add up to in order to apply a status effect on the various categories of machine. It’s very useful information when it comes time to mod your weapons.

Some other topics touched upon in the first part of the chapter are how machine armor plating works to absorb damage; machine components and weakpoints; component loot; machine perception; knockdown, tumble and tie-down; traps and potions; and finally outfits. Of particular note, the difference between knockdown and stun from shock damage is explained (with the exception of critical hits, stun duration is unaffected by damage to a stunned machine). Also, after killing a specific type of machine so many times, it permanently evolves into a more powerful version. Hunh, TIL.

The second section of chapter 2 provides a thorough explanation of all the skills along with advice on how to get the most out of them. The final section covers weapons. About four pages are devoted to each one, offering a detailed explanation of the weapon’s mechanics, ammunition types, recommended modifications, skill synergy and of course, proper use. The heavy weapons that Aloy can temporarily pick up during battle are also discussed.

Chapter 3 Hunting Targets describes each enemy in the game, including machines, humans, unique NPCs and wildlife. The bulk of the chapter is taken up by the machine entries, each one of which has a section on armor and components, loot, attacks and strategies. I can’t overstate how thorough a treatment each machine gets. The image below shows how each and every attack of each machine is detailed.

HZD_HuntingTargets

Chapter 4 Quest Guide is the longest chapter in the book; it details every quest, side quest, errand and activity. I’ve avoided reading this particular chapter, but I can tell you that each quest includes a detailed walkthrough, encounter maps and strategies. Towards the end of the chapter is an extensive (10 pages) recommended game and skill progression outline.

Chapter 5 Region Guide reveals the location of every datapoint and every collectible, and it’s incredibly well organized. If you’ve collected things out of order, it matters not. The first two pages of the chapter will tell you exactly what page to go to in order find the location of whatever it is you’re missing.

Chapter 6 Hunting Gear

Presented for your reference is every usable item that Aloy can collect on her long journey. Whether you want to know whether to keep an item for later, need something to craft more ammo or can’t remember which Merchant was offering the item you require, this chapter will be your one-stop source of information.
-Future Press

Chapter 7 The Notebook is another chapter I have thus far avoided. Here’s Future Press’s description of it.

Spoiler Warning: stay away from the following pages unless you’ve either seen Aloy’s quest through to the end or don’t mind learning about important plot points in order to get information about unlocking Trophies. That said, we’re proud to present the in-depth character and story material found in this chapter, alongside interviews with Guerrilla Games and a very special summary of Aloy’s story so far.
-Future Press

Final Thoughts

The book is printed in glorious full color on thick page stock. Each chapter is loaded with images, diagrams and tables that present the voluminous amount of information in as easy a way to digest as possible. The layout is clean and invokes the aesthetic style of the game itself. I also find the main text font to be extremely easy to read. Included at the end of the book are two things I greatly appreciate: an index and a two-sided, foldout poster of the HZD game world.

If you’re still with me, over a thousand words from where we started, it’ll come as no surprise that I think this is an amazing book. It has tremendous value both as a strategy guide and a collector’s item. If you’re a fan of Horizon Zero Dawn, this purchase is well worth the money.

Video Games

[HZD] So, funny story…

I’ve been playing Horizon Zero Dawn on the max difficulty setting. As you’d expect, it was super tough at first, becoming more manageable over time. Lately I’ve been finding it relatively easy. I chalked it up to being over-leveled. Then a couple nights ago, I went into the settings to fiddle with the audio balance and noticed the difficulty had been changed to ‘Easy’.

Needless to say, the game is profoundly not easy.

I just thank all the gods that there are no difficulty related trophies. Phew.

Video Games

Horizon Zero Dawn and cultural thievery

I’ve started to see some criticisms of Horizon Zero Dawn cropping up for: Native American cultural appropriation. *sigh*

One of the effects of an extreme apocalypse is the obliteration of technology. Most apocalyptic scenarios involve the extinction of a large percentage of the population along with the destruction of cities, infrastructure, and technology centers. What you end up with is scattered survivors without the critical mass of knowledge necessary to repair and rebuild.

Let’s say there was a nuclear war. All major cities and surrounding areas destroyed. To escape radiation poisoning, everyone must flee to remote locations. People will first go to smaller cities and loot what they can. Society descends into chaos. People who were once neighbors killing each other over cans of soup.

There is no more industrial scale farming nor refining of fuel. Working vast fields with heavy machinery and shipping food around the country is no longer possible. Once peoples’ looted supplies have been depleted, they will need to fend for themselves, and many won’t be up to the task. Famine, malnutrition, and disease will further devastate the population.

Perhaps there would be a nuclear winter. Global climate change that makes survival even more difficult. In the end, it all amounts to scattered people surviving off the land. Over time, small communities would form, but they would be under constant threat. For it is often easier to steal than produce.

What we have here is not Horizon Zero Dawn appropriating Native American culture, but accurately depicting a post-apocalyptic scenario. People would gather in tribes, they would have primitive technology, and life would be savage. Without the means to make cloth, they would use fur and hide. They would adorn themselves with whatever colorful objects were at hand, like blue machine tubing. They would invent lore to explain the unexplained. Buildings would be made of wood and stone; and they would be open, with many people sharing the same space, because that is the most efficient way to build. In short, they would do the things that all primitive humans have done throughout history.

There are no tepees, or hatchets, or horses, or feather headdresses, or war hoops, or long straight dark hair, or reddish skin. Many of the things that are specifically (and stereotypically) associated with Native Americans. The Nora are depicted with dreadlocks and a melting pot of racial features. They have a war-chief but are ruled by the matriarchs. They do not revere animal spirits, or incorporate animal imagery in the things they build. They hunt with bow, arrow, and spear (among other weapons), but so has most every other primitive human society. Does it resemble Native American culture in many ways? Sure it does. There are also a lot of elements of other cultures: African, Celtic, Norse, and Aztec to name a few.

So where does the comparison to Native Americans come from? Well, a lot of focus seems to be on the use of the term Braves. And yes, it is historically used to describe Native American warriors. But why is this offensive? It’s not derogatory in nature and isn’t being used in a derogatory way.

Apparently, using the term to describe primitive tribal warriors in a video game somehow suggests that Native Americans are primitive savages? Or disrespects their heritage? That’s ridiculous. The term originated in a time when Native Americans were primitive and some were savage. To pretend like that was never the case and getting upset over references to that time period is in itself cultural dishonesty. I should also note that being primitive, by modern standards, is not in and of itself a negative thing.

Ultimately, this has nothing to do with Horizon Zero Dawn and everything to do with the excessive political correctness infecting our society right now. It’s obvious that Guerrilla Games tried to be as sensitive and respectful as they could possibly be. The grand irony of course, is that trying to isolate and protect cultural elements from being borrowed serves only to prolong racial division.

I think trying to expunge all references to Native American culture is the wrong way to respect it. By incorporating elements of all ancestries into mainstream society, we keep them alive and relevant. It’s a jumping off point to have conversations with our children about the past. If a bunch of people play Horizon Zero Dawn and get interested in learning more about Native American culture because of it, how is that a bad thing?

Video Games

Horizon Zero Dawn first impressions

TL;DR Amazing

I got to play for about five hours, and so far it is everything and more that I hoped for. Much remains to be seen obviously, but the framework for magnificence is firmly in place.

My disc arrived from Amazon right on schedule and in perfect condition. Upon opening, I encountered a minor disappointment. The only piece of paper was an advertisement for a PS4 Pro bundle deal or some such. Sadly, HZD does not measure up to Witcher 3 with respect to accompanying documentation. Ah well, such is the way of the world now.

The game installed without issue. I wasn’t really paying attention to the time, but it didn’t seem abnormally long for a sprawling RPG. One thing I was paying attention to, was whether there would be a giant day 1 patch. And indeed there was a patch, v1.02, but it was miniscule and downloaded in seconds. Well done Guerrilla Games; thank you for not leaning on that crutch. As far as settings, the only thing I adjusted  was brightness, and I have to say, their method for doing that may work, but it’s painful on the eyes.

After selecting New Game you must choose one of four difficulty levels: Easy, Normal, Hard, or Very Hard. This process always makes me a little sad. I like Souls games where the only option is Get Rekt. Completing those games makes you feel like a special snowflake, but I digress. Being the way that I am, I cranked it right up to Very Hard.

I’m not going to describe the prologue; it’s better experienced first hand. But I will say that it does a very nice job introducing you to Aloy, her caretaker Rost, and the world they inhabit. After the prologue you start your first proper mission and head out on your own—face first into open world gameplay.

I never completed the first task of my first mission. I spent the night hunting, foraging, crafting, and working on one of two side quests I picked up. I made a bunch of regular arrows and fire arrows; upgraded my resource, weapon, and arrow capacity;  made some potions; and modified my bow. I killed Striders, Scrappers, and Watchers as well as rabbits, turkeys, fox, racoons, and a boar. The goose got away, fucking goose.

I ended the night just shy of level 5 (more on this later) and purchased three skills which I can’t remember. Gameplay is fast, fluid, and responsive in all respects: shooting, fighting, running, crouching, sliding, jumping, climbing, everything. Everything Aloy does is done with swift grace. In spite of all this wonderfulness, it’s the little details that really blew me away. Here’s a freeform list of observations from my first night of play.

  • The visuals are spectacular, with an awesome render distance and no loading pauses encountered thus far.
  • To accompany the game’s beauty, there is a ridiculous photo mode with a host of options. You have a camera on a crane and can frame the shot however you want. You can remove the HUD and/or Aloy. You can add color effects or borders. You can adjust the brightness, exposure, and depth of field up to and including focal length and f stop. I seriously can’t get over this shit right here.

hzd001

  • Not only does the game look amazing; it sounds amazing. The music and nature sounds blend together beautifully, and the directionality of the audio is excellent. I had to turn the SFX and music volume down to 80% in order bring out the dialogue, but in general, the audio balance is very good.
  • Speaking of dialogue, I love Ashly Burch’s voice.
  • A day/night cycle and dynamic weather are present. It rained on me once, but not for very long. At night time, I looked up and saw the band of the milky way, or whatever galaxy the world of HZD is in. I decided to take a picture of it with photo mode, but got completely distracted by how the moon cast its light across Aloy’s face.

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  • The HUD is clean but includes everything you could possibly want. I especially appreciate the presence of an experience bar, and little things like how the tools flow side to side through the quick access slot (down on the D-pad). The compass is unobtrusive and yet loaded with information. It shows campfires, settlements, herds, quest destinations, and waypoints. If a quest has multiple destinations, the compass indicates their recommended order with a small Roman numeral. There are tons of these little quality of life things.
  • The 3D style of the map is a thing of beauty. I love just scrolling around, looking at the freaking map, nevermind exploring the world itself. You can place a waypoint on the map and when you arrive there, it automatically disappears.
  • Even the menus are excellent. They are simple to understand and easy to navigate. Something that can’t be said about more than a few RPGs. When you scroll through your quests, it tells you how far it is to the next objective. It just takes a moment to see which quest has a task closest to your present location. Such a little thing, but so helpful. You can add your own quests as well. Want to remind yourself to make a health potion? Create a Job. It’ll appear on your quest menu under Errands. Again with the quality of life items.
  • After a kill, you can see from a distance what the commonality of the drop is: common, uncommon, rare, etc. I know I sound like a broken record, but this is yet another example of the developer really focusing on the player experience. On making sure that the game gets out of its own way; allowing us to spend more time playing, and less time fiddling.
  • The crafting system is easy to comprehend and for items you use a lot, like arrows, you can quick craft right from the radial menu. It may not be very realistic, crafting 10 arrows with a Scrapper charging at you, but it’s better than the alternative of running away and coming back.
  • On the artistic side, you know how small children have kind of stubby underdeveloped fingernails? Yeah, they even got that right. When young Aloy first holds the Focus to her head, she recoils in fright and throws it down. It’s a beautifully animated natural reaction. Then she tentatively reaches out to pick it back up with her curious little hand and little kid fingernails.
  • The last thing I’ll mention is consequence. There are save points all over the place, but it’s very easy to get caught up exploring. At the end of last night’s gaming session, I foraged a bunch of stuff, killed a few animals, and took out several Machines. I ticked up to level 5 and was about to go find a campfire when I came across another gaggle of enemies. A couple mistakes later and I’m dead, all the gains since my last save lost. FML. It felt very Soulsesque.

So what’s my first impression of Horizon Zero Dawn? It’s phenomenal, with a consummate attention to detail on all fronts. This is clearly a labor of love for Guerrilla Games and their passion shines through in every way.

In an attempt to balance this glowing commentary, I tried and failed to find some negatives—much however, remains to be seen.